Run­ning the Num­bers

The Mil­len­nial Ques­tion

Canadian Running - - DEPARTMENTS - By Gray­don Snider Gray­don Snider reg­u­larly crunches num­bers.

What is a “mil­len­nial”? The term has be­come sat­u­rated in the me­dia, but it sim­ply means you were born be­tween about 1980 and 2000. In other words, one in four Cana­di­ans is a mil­len­nial.

How do mil­len­ni­als con­nect to run­ning? In Fe­bru­ary 2016, Run­ning usa re­leased their sur­vey report about the state of run­ning among this age group in America (no such study has yet to be done in Canada). Con­sider that phys­i­cal in­ac­tiv­ity costs the Cana­dian health care sys­tem about $5 bil­lion a year. With that in mind, run­ning trends look like all good news.

To high­light some pos­i­tive so­cial trends, con­sider that back in 1985 only 10 per cent of marathon­ers were fe­male. In 2015, the num­ber has nearly quin­tu­pled to 47 per cent. For shorter dis­tances, women hold a dom­i­nat­ing 57 per cent par­tic­i­pa­tion level. When asked why they run, two thirds of ac­tive mil­len­ni­als do so in or­der to im­prove their fit­ness lev­els. It seems this is the first truly health-aware gen­er­a­tion. Con­sider that about 30 per cent of youth smoked in the 1980s, but then dropped to 15 per cent since the 2010s (in­ter­est­ingly, vi­o­lence rates have plum­meted over this time pe­riod, too). Event plan­ning is also im­por­tant among youth, reg­is­ter­ing on av­er­age three months ahead of a race date. It seems mil­len­ni­als are more egal­i­tar­ian, health-con­scious, bet­ter at or­ga­niz­ing and friend­lier than the previous gen­er­a­tions.

But there are also some con­tra­dic­tory as­pects to this progress. The sec­ond-most im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tion for mil­len­ni­als, be­hind the event’s dis­tance, was cost. Most pre­fer to spend be­tween an un­rea­son­ably low $25–50 on a race (con­sid­er­ing many of to­day’s big­ger races are well north of $50), which is at odds with their pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with pres­tige events. They also show lit­tle in­ter­est in rais­ing funds for char­ity-spon­sored events, claim­ing that merely en­ter­ing the race is a form of char­ity in-and-of it­self.

This fru­gal­ity makes some sense, as young peo­ple to­day are more bud­geted than ever be­fore. Over the last 40 years the me­dian in­come among the young rose by 15 per cent, but costs for hous­ing, univer­sity tu­ition, and race fees have tripled. With the rel­a­tively high price of fit­ness, the con­stant op­por­tu­nity for low-qual­ity food, along with other rea­sons, have col­lec­tively spurred a rise in obe­sity. In 1985 about 10 per cent of adults were obese, com­pared with about 25 per cent to­day. Only about one in five adults aged 25–34 to­day ex­er­cise reg­u­larly. We have more leisure time than ever, but it’s not be­ing spent on phys­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties. Is money enough of a fac­tor that cheaper ex­er­cise op­por­tu­ni­ties be part of the so­lu­tion? Or is it a purely so­cial phe­nom­e­non?

So we find a para­dox faced by mil­len­ni­als: they are bet­ter ed­u­cated and more health con­scious than any group be­fore, yet they still spend too many hours be­ing seden­tary.

No­tably, 66 per cent of mil­len­ni­als who run hear about events from so­cial me­dia, yet they do not like to hear from the event it­self. This in­cludes a dis­like for Face­book-re­lated race up­dates (email is pre­ferred) and live so­cial­me­dia feeds dur­ing the event it­self. Many want to par­tic­i­pate in well-known events, but shy away from such tools as vir­tual train­ing part­ners. There is a sep­a­ra­tion be­tween the on­line and real world that even the savvi­est on­line per­son prefers to keep sep­a­rate.

Another change is that mil­len­ni­als par­tic­i­pated more in 5k and half-marathons events than the more tra­di­tional 10k and marathons. Ob­sta­cle, mud and colour runs re­main a smaller frac­tion of to­tal par­tic­i­pa­tion, re­in­forc­ing that nov­elty alone is not enough. Events that draw large num­bers and have pres­tige, like the New York City Marathon, at­tract this cov­eted de­mo­graphic.

Mil­len­ni­als are a very so­cial group, but they face real wealth and health re­lated chal­lenges. It re­mains to be seen if so­cial me­dia can be used in mo­ti­vat­ing a gen­uinely healthy life­style. This is a bright group, though, and so my hopes are high.

TOP Self­ies are a com­mon sight at most events now

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